Thursday, March 14, 2013

Legend Mini-Series Review

DC Comics - Wildstorm
Comic Book Mini-Series
48/ea. = 192 pages (2005)
$5.95/ea. = $23.80

Published: Legend #1-4 (of 4)

Contributors: Howard Chaykin, Russ Heath, Al Vey, David Rodriguez, Darlene Royer, Wildstorm FX, and Rob Leigh

Synopsis: Professor Abednago Danner works to unlock the chemical key to why smaller creatures like ants have incredible proportionate strength.  He performs experiments in his own private lab in his home.  His wife, Matilda, is a god-fearing woman and frowns upon his experiments.  His work bears fruit as he creates an abnormally strong tadpole.  Has he unlocked the key at last?

Next he injects a pregnant cat and her kitten becomes monstrously powerful.  Danner decides that after the cat must come human trials.  Matilda tells him she is pregnant and his path is clear.  The baby is named Hugo and has incredible strength from birth.  Matilda is furious, but loves her son nonetheless.  The doting parents must deal with a frighteningly strong infant then toddler, but manage to raise him well and keep the secret.
Hugo Danner goes to war!

 The boy grows and questions his unusual strength compared to other children.  His father warns Hugo that others will fear his power and he must always be good to justify his strength.  Can Hugo keep his immense power a secret and live a normal life?  He grows up in the time of the Vietnam War - will he make a difference in that losing battle?  What about his discovery of women and sex - can a normal woman handle his inexhaustible stamina?  What happens when you are born the strongest creature on the planet?  Will your power corrupt you or do you walk softly among the ants?  This is the story of a true super man.

Pros: Great angle on the classic super man tale, Chaykin's writing is good, Heath's art is simple and efficient, inspired by the book that influenced the creation of Superman

Cons: Art is a bit inconsistent, pretty expensive cover price, cover blurb is not entirely accurate - Chaykin does a 85% adaptation of Wylie's novel

Mike Tells It Straight: Howard Chaykin adapts Philip Wylie's novel Gladiator with a few changes.  He puts the time period during the Vietnam War instead of the first World War, gives Hugo Danner an insatiable sex drive, and cuts out the bank vault rescue which resulted in criminal suspicion.  I think all of these changes were good and the story remains a great look at how difficult it would be to have incredible power.

"It tickles."
You really get a feeling for how alone Hugo feels around other people.  The sex angle was pretty funny for the most part, but Chaykin's portrayal of the war was the best part.  You can really sympathize with Hugo as he tries to do the right thing, but realizes it's not as easy as it sounds.  Heath's art is good - he creates some great character expressions, but it's a bit inconsistent throughout.

Wylie's novel is a great work which resounds in any time and may have been the precursor to the most popular comic book character of all time - Superman.  Chaykin and Heath do a commendable job on bringing this tale to life.  I'm a sucker for a good deconstructed superhero story - although the original book predates superheroes.  I recommend checking this out if you want a mature, science fiction story about what happens when man tries to become super man.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lost Squad Trade Paperback Review

Lost Squad
Devil's Due Publishing (DDP)
144 pages
$18.99 (2007) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781932796414

Contributors: Chris Kirby, Alan Robinson, and Kel Nuttall

Reprints: Lost Squad #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: 1942 Europe during World War II and the Nazis are winning.  They have developed a new division of soldiers using occult knowledge which gives them an advantage over the Allies.  In response the Allies have put together a group of soldiers with their own occult powers, the Lost Squad!

The Lost Squad parachutes into action
When things get weird the Allies call on the Lost Squad and this time around they have to foil another one of Hitler's mad plots.  He is planning to use a special crystal ball to look into the future and predict what moves to make against the Allies.  When this crystal ball ends up being a little girl the Lost Squad must infiltrate a remote town crawling with occult Nazi soldiers.

Major Smithenry lost his squad and is trying not to repeat the same mistake with the Lost Squad.  Sergeant Lymangood recently lost his daughter and his misery is making him recklessly jump into the fray.  Corporal Berg is an amateur occult scholar and he wears glasses.  Captain Boudreau is a former priest who lost his faith.  Jose loves his gum.  They are the Lost Squad and they never back down from a few creepy Nazi zombies.

Pros: Ambitious and over-the-top, lots of heart, plenty of action, potential movie in the works

Cons: Black and white interior, art is fairly rough and unpolished, story is kind of like something a 10-year-old would write (although it probably would make a good action flick), movie has not happened yet
Black and white interiors

Mike Tells It Straight:
Lost Squad came out in 2007 and had some buzz for an upcoming Hollywood movie.  Fast-forward to 2012 and the movie is still in limbo.  I liked the premise of an occult WWII action tale and Chris Kirby is actually a pretty decent writer.  He manages to give each character a unique personality and background.

The art is a bit cartoony and it's monochromatic (obviously due to budget contraints).  It felt like an unpolished independent comic with a lot of heart.  Not a bad thing, but pretty rough.  At this point the movie prospects may be doubtful (you know Hollywood), but I think a Lost Squad movie would be very cool.  Check it out if you want to read something simple, off the beaten path, and full of demonic Nazi soldiers getting blown away.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold Trade Paperback Review

Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold
DC Comics - Vertigo
160 pages
$14.95 (2000) Trade Paperback
ISBN 9781563895050

Contributors: Alisa Kwitney, Kent Williams, Michael Zulli, Scott Hampton, Rebecca Guay, Sherilyn Van Valkenburgh, and Todd Klein

Reprints: Destiny: A Chronicle of Deaths Foretold #1-3 (of 3)

Synopsis: In a desolate near-future where a terrible antibiotic-resistant strain of the bubonic plague has decimated the population comes a stranger riding on a motorcycle.  He arrives at a farm owned by a woman named Ruth.  She has a beautiful white horse and her family all died of the plague.  His name is John Ryder and he is a bewitching fellow.  Ruth is intrigued and lets him stay at her farm.  He captivates the frightened community of survivors living near her farm by telling them he has a page from the Book of Destiny.  He then tells them three bizarre tales of when the plague appeared before:
An image of Destiny by Kent Williams

  1. In Rome a dancing girl wins the heart of the king and becomes queen.  Many women are jealous and she receives contempt at court.  She helps her king to keep his throne and he is loyal to her.  Then a surprise happens - she has a son who was born long ago while she was a harlot and given up.  He returns to meet his mother, but she locks him away so no one will ever know her secret.  Meanwhile a plague is begins to rage.
  2. In the Middle Ages a king takes his court to a remote castle for a sporting tournament.  He brings his daughters and arranges for their weddings to men they do not love.  One man is old and lecherous while the other is a cruel foreigner.  The youngest princess, Joanne, is temperamental and becomes interested in a handsome young knight.  Too bad the plague is waiting around the corner.
  3.  In the mid-1600s at a sleepy village harvest festival a beautiful young woman rails against her strict religious upbringing.  All the young and old men alike are attracted by her beauty, but she only wants to escape the town.  A stranger catches her attention and her heart, but the plague threatens once again.
What is John Ryder's secret and why does Ruth believe his stories?  The plague has decimated the civilized world once again and Destiny has watched each time.  The fate of all are written in his book.

Pros: Some intriguing art by Kent Williams, story by Kwitney is fairly competent for each time period, art is unique to each story, cameo by Constantine, nominated for an Eisner Award in 1998 for "Best Limited Series"

Cons: Superficially related to Neil Gaiman's The Sandman yet not nearly as good, art and story can be a bit rough in spots, four artists with very different styles
Ruth is tempted by a page from Destiny's book

Mike Tells It Straight: Destiny of the Endless from Neil Gaiman's The Sandman series gets a mini-series all his own.  Obviously an attempt to capitalize on the still-surging popularity of Gaiman's series after it ended in 1996.  Destiny appears, but never really plays an active role.  He is forever the watcher and keeper of knowledge.  It seems a bit daunting to write a character like him and still come up with an interesting story.

Kwitney was an editor at Vertigo during Gaiman's time and familiar with the workings of the world he created.  She is a logical choice then to write a one-off mini-series starring one of the Endless.  Joined by four talented artists who deliver very different styles for each era the story was well presented.  Although the story and art were competent I found the total package to be a mere shadow of Gaiman's The Sandman.

It had less subtle power and elegance, but was still interesting.  For those looking to return to the experience of The Sandman this book will take you about halfway there.  Kwitney does a good job and has great help from her artists, but it's nearly impossible to match Gaiman's work.  Destiny is still much-read material for fans of The Sandman and does what it can with a rather wooden character.  

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

100 Bullets Vol. 8 The Hard Way Trade Paperback Review

100 Bullets Vol. 8 - The Hard Way
DC Comics - Vertigo
Softcover Trade Paperback
224 pages
$14.99 (2005)
$49.99 (2012) Deluxe Edition Hardcover Vol. 3
ISBN 9781401204907

Contributors: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Dave Johnson, Trish Mulvihill, and Clem Robins

Reprints: 100 Bullets #50-58

Synopsis: A secret group called The Trust has ruled from the shadows for centuries and is made up of thirteen powerful families.  They employed a special team called the Minutemen to police the families from harming each other, but betrayed and tried to destroy them.  The Minutemen and their leader Agent Graves disappeared.  Now he's back and putting the old band back together in order to serve a reckoning on The Trust.

Graves gives Wylie a briefcase
Prey for Reign - A crew hides out in a bar after a heist.  Too bad one of their number got left behind and the deal can't happen without him.  Now they wait to see if he shows up and one of them tells a story.  He tells of a group of powerful men who form a trust to rule the new world of America many centuries ago.  This man has a tattoo of a cross on the back of his hand and he is one cool customer.  He was visited by a man with a briefcase a few days ago.

Wylie Runs the Voodoo Down - Wylie was living in a deadbeat town and working for peanuts at a gas station in the middle of nowhere.  His life sucked and he couldn't care less.  Then a man named Shepard and a girl named Dizzy appeared.  He ended up going on a trip with them to New Orleans.  An old guy named Agent Graves gives him a suitcase filled with an untraceable gun, one hundred untraceable bullets, and information on how his life became so miserable.

Seems like he had a history in New Orleans and vague memories keep coming back.  He was in love, but something happened to the girl.  Dizzy tags along while Wylie tries to drown his sorrows.  The bar where they're drinking has a gnarled little black man playing the best trumpet you've ever heard.

Wylie befriends Gabe the hunchback trumpet player
Wylie and Dizzy get some fresh air and witness two men kill a girl across the river.  The men see them and they hide out.  Wylie runs into an old friend who's still in the game.  Shepard visits one of the families of The Trust to talk about Graves' return.  Things get hairy as Wylie's memories keep coming back.  Why does he keep remembering Shepard?

Coda Smoke - Lono and Loop are in prison, but they're not tearing each other apart quite yet.  Lono receives a phone call from Shepard who has startling news.  It's a major turning point for Shepard, Dizzy, Wylie, Lono, and Loop.

Pros: Same great art by Risso that we've seen throughout the series, Johnson's covers are very great, big reveal of Wylie's past, lots of Dizzy (she's hot), the origin of The Trust, powerful emotions and visuals in Wylie's story, the series makes a major progression and things get shaken up

Cons: Azzarello's dialogue has a few duds - where he's trying too hard to be noir or sprinkles in some puns

Mike Tells It Straight: This eighth volume of 100 Bullets has the biggest reveals and most powerful emotions yet.  'Prey for Reign' was the 50th issue and gives us the origin of The Trust.  Wylie's story gives the origin of both Wylie and the Minutemen.  I must admit Wylie was one of my favorite characters because of his humble and care-less attitude.  It didn't hurt Dizzy was involved in his stories too and she's a beautiful girl.  Wylie's memories return and it spells trouble for everyone around him.  He was better off forgotten in the desert.  The final story 'Coda Smoke' is a sleeper which will surprise readers and fans of Shepard.
We see the Minutemen prior to their betrayal

Azzarello's writing continues to be top notch - both pacing and plot twists.  He seems to add puns into the dialogue to make it sound more 'noir', but this volume is a little less thick.  Risso is an amazing storyteller and his art is highly expressive.  Covers by Johnson keep getting better.

The usual disclaimer applies - this is the eighth volume of a series and readers should have some knowledge of the previous stories/characters in order to fully comprehend it.  The story was powerful and emotional.  We get a lot of questions answered and the plot progresses.  I'm really looking forward to the next volume as things are getting deadly!

TO BUY and Recommendations: